As a hockey fan all of my life and past player of both ice AND roller hockey there was something always frustrating about EA's NHL franchise. It took me just mere minutes to realize what it was when last year's NHL 12 was released:

The game of hockey is a fast and very strategic sport and EA's hockey franchise was only capturing the fast aspect.

For those who may not know hockey, it is a lot more than just fighting, checking, and speed. Puck movement, body position, and overall offensive AND defensive cycling are HUGE components of hockey that are often overlooked. As a fan and player, I'm happy to see these elements finally brought into the franchise, although they aren't perfect. NHL 13 brings new components to the game that makes a console generation starved franchise feel fresh.

"Keep your eyes on the body." It's one of the first lessons I was taught as a defensemen. This skill allows you to position your body so, if done right, can cut off a skaters line as if it were butter. If not done right, you will get caught out of position and the opposing skater can blast right by you. These mechanics and more have finally been brought into the series thanks to EA's true skating performance engine. Thanks to this engine you now have fast players hitting their top potential speed, giving you the edge over out-of-position defenders. For those familiar it's a greatly welcomed addition, for those who were embedded in NHL 12's "arcadey" one speed players, it's an adjustment. In addition to top end spend, True Performance Skating actually puts "skates" on your virtual players. No more highly unrealistic turns, there is now momentum. Goodbye stopping on a dime, more speed equals harder and longer stops. You can't rely on simply rushing the puck up as your tired players will NOW be caught deep in the zone. These mechanics add a freshness to gameplay and add realism to the game that was absent up until this rendition.

Along with skating, goalies now make there true appearance in the franchise. No more consistent wrap arounds, or the typical go-to one timers. Free limb goalie control has allowed for 13's net-minders to be agile and more importantly aware than ever before. Just like in real-life game, goalies now anticipate puck movement and will react accordingly. Though at times they do seem a little TOO unstoppable, a quick viewing of an instant replay will show that EA has really improves how a goalie thinks rather than reacts.

The normal be a pro, GM, and Ultimate team modes have made their return as well as newcomer GM connected mode. Now you can be a player, coach, or whomever online in a league that is filled with other players, making a true authentic hockey experience. The mode is overall solid, but as with the Ultimate Team mode, getting where you need to be in the menus can be a chore. In addition, loading times have seem to increase this year as well. These minor gropes aside, NHL 13 is a complete and consistent package that is arguably un-challenged with the exception being EA's FIFA franchise.

As stated before, the new mechanics are a great rendition, but they are also NHL's downfall. For some reason EA has forgotten that adding momentum and physics means you need to overhaul the biggest physics aspect of the game, the collisions. Like many others have said, I can't tell you how frustrating it is to be going at top speed, homed in on a poor guy on the boards, only to have your player bounce off of him as he continues with the puck. EA failed to see how their new physics engine would affect player collisions. Also, with the new Left Trigger to skate backwards mechanic, it rarely works to your advantage as player turn speeds with and without the puck seem to be a little too sluggish. On defense, if your blown by it takes ages for your defender to turn around and by then it's too late. As a defender, I know that this isn't always the case.

AI has taken a huge improvement, but also carries it's own weight to NHL's faults. Player AI is finally improved by Hockey IQ, but it's not always for the better. Players finally pinch, cycle, and backcheck like their real life counterparts, but these new "improvements" lack consistency. A lot of the time your defensive players will be absent or caught way too far up beyond logic and be completely beat. Another returning frustration is how picture perfect the opposing AI is. Every pass is perfect and the predictability of the AI is almost laughable. Back and forth passing to the point, if you block the lane they drive it down behind the net, only to pass it back up to the point. This becomes a frustration because even when you figure it out, they still somehow always get around you.

Overall, NHL is one of the better sports game franchises out there in my opinion. NHL 13 succeeds in furthering EA's effort to keep NHL fans and newcomers fans of a "Locked-Out" sport. For the first time in the franchise, actual strategy and mechanics are introduced, making a more realistic and even based gameplay experience. Tack on the improved AI and goalies, NHL can be a very challenging and rewarding experience. Hopefully next year's edition will look to improve on the faults of these new mechanics. With a little bit of overhaul of it's menu system and loading times, Connected modes and Ultimate team will continue to thrive. Don't pass NHL 13 up, as they say, it's shaping up to be the only hockey we'll get this year.